Front Page Titles (by Subject) Social Science: Game, Drama, and Text - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1
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Social Science: Game, Drama, and Text - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Social Science: Game, Drama, and Text
“Blurred Genres: The Refiguration of Social Thought.” The American Scholar 49(Spring 1980):165–179.
Contemporary social theory is undergoing a sea change and refiguration in its aims, methods, and favorite metaphors for studying and describing social phenomena. This more subjective approach prefers to know the meaning of social experience for the social actors rather than mere measurement and “causes” of “behavior”. It also challenges the central assumptions of mainstream, older social science by denying the strict separation of theory and data and the claim to a detached, objective, and morally neutral stance. Rejecting positivist and mechanistic models of social theory (laws-and-instances) the new breed of social scientists seek explanations by connecting action to sense rather than behavior to its determinants.
This new interpretative (or “hermeneutic”) explanation in the social sciences “trains its attention on what institutions, actions, images, customs…mean to those whose institutions, actions, customs and so on they are.” It systematically unpacks the personal conceptual world of meaning in which prisoners, Calvinists, or paranoids live. To achieve this interpretation, it casts its social theory “in terms more familiar to gamesters and aestheticians than to plumbers or engineers. Society is “less and less represented as an elaborate machine…than as a serious game, a sidewalk drama, or a behavioral text.” These three new social science analogies or metaphors—game, drama, and text—can, in turn, benefit from dialogue with the humanities.
America's most celebrated sociologist today, Erving Goffman, applies the first analogy—game imagery—to a wide variety of social activities: “Etiquette, diplomacy, crime, finance, advertising, law, seduction….” To conceive of social behavior as games (involving strategies, players, moves, signals, information, and outcomes) goes back to Wittgenstein's view of the forms of life as “language games,” Huizina's ludic view of culture in Homo Ludens, and the new strategics of von Neumann's and Morgenstern's Theory of Games and Economic Behavior. “Life is just a bowl of strategies.” For example, the activities of a psychiatric hospital resemble a game where the patient must dissemble his true self and where the staff holds most of the trump cards. The game analogy may not commend itself to humanists who prefer to think of people not as obeying rules and playing for advantage but as acting freely to realize their potential. Still, game analogies help social theory transcend its outmoded mechanistic analogies. Gregory Bateson's interpretation of schizophrenia as rule confusion or Geertz's interpretation of market processes as complicated information contests help us understand our social reality.
The drama analogy offers us the metaphor of life activities conceived of as social dramas. Two approaches appear in the social drama analogy: (1) the “ritual theory” stresses the affinities of theater and religion—"drama as communion, the temple as stage,” and (2) the “symbolic action theory” stresses the affinities of theater and rhetoric—"drama as persuasion, the platform as stage.” Social drama—whether as liturgy or ideology—has the virtue of showing the common patterns behind diverse social behaviors. But this virtue of uncovering formal similarities can divert attention from different content and make “vividly disparate matters look drably homogeneous.”
Finally, the text analogy encourage us to “read” social action as discourse. To see social institutions as reading and translating texts stresses the multiple “contexts” in which social processes are embedded.
The shift among social scientists from physical process analogies to symbolic form ones has redirected attention from the manipulation of human behavior to the “anatomization” and understanding of thought. “The rising interest of sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, political scientists, and even now and then a rogue economist in the analysis of symbol systems poses…the question of the relationship of such systems to what goes on in the world.”